Rachael and I go to our local video store quite regularly during the summer. They have such an excellent deal on rentals that it’s hard not to take advantage of it and catch up on all the movies that we’ve been meaning to see but just never have.
This week, we decided after listening to an old Arthur C. Clarke story, “Rescue Party,” on Escape Pod that we wanted to finally see 2001: A Space Odyssey. That didn’t work out, because someone else had already rented it.
So we did a modified seven degrees to Kevin Bacon and ended up at The Shining in two steps. Going with the horror theme, we also picked up The Thing and Vertigo. Okay, Vertigo‘s more suspense than horror, but I felt pretty horrified by the time I was done watching it.
Normally I’d choose just one of the films that we rented to discuss, but all three were so good that I couldn’t choose. So instead of an in-depth look, I’ll give you an overview of what was cool about each one!
I’m not terribly well-versed in Stanley Kubrick films, but I’ve seen a few of his more famous ones, like Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket. I generally liked Full Metal Jacket, though it had a detached quality to it that I also noticed in The Shining. Kubrick’s films seem to generally be of a more analytical bent. He looked at subjects who were a little unhinged with the attitude of a researcher running a rat through a maze. The Shining was creepy, but it was also familiar, since it’s been so heavily parodied (it’s always weird seeing the original source of a meme). I’d best describe it as sterile; Jack Nicholson comes off as crazy from the very first scene, Shelley Long plays a very pitiful abuse victim who, despite her hardship, I just found irritating, and the kid’s bad acting was covered up by the fact that he was supposed to be half crazy himself. That’s not to say it’s a bad film. I thought it was quite good, but I felt no investment in what was happening. Of course, I usually don’t feel very invested in any characters when I’m watching a horror movie; what’s the point when you know everyone’s purpose is to be terrified or killed for the audience’s entertainment?
In contrast to The Shining, The Thing is a horror movie that wants you to feel as viscerally as possible what the characters are feeling. The eponymous thing is a shape shifting alien that infects other organisms with its cells, converting them into aliens as well. You see men who’ve been infected have their chest cavities cave in and turn to giant maws, their hands turned into grotesque claws, their heads pop off their bodies to escape fire. All of the special effects are practical, and they are gloriously grotesque. Though the film’s trying to gut check you with every surprise, it’s such wonderful fun. I particularly loved one brief scene where the research team’s medical doctor is in his lab running tests on samples of one of the thing’s victims, and the computer concludes matter-of-factly “Chance at least one team member has been infected: 75%.” That’s just goofy no matter how you look at it.
Now unlike the others, Vertigo is more suspense than horror; there are no supernatural or science fiction elements to the story. I’d also say that it’s objectively the best film of the lot from this week. I was expecting more of a traditional murder mystery, but it was a very compelling psychological thriller. The twist halfway through the film was entirely unexpected, and I can honestly say that what happens in the final third left me feeling thoroughly icky. You might be able to handwave bald sexism as an artifact of when the film was made, but it still left a poor taste in my mouth. I’m still trying to parse out how much of it was done as a way to show just how far gone John Ferguson is at that point. Even so, it’s probably worth watching again sometime, because it was just such a tightly written film.
What do you guys think? Have you seen any of these movies? What’s your opinion on them?